April 9, 2014

him and her

(How do I begin a post in which I tell you about the man I love? It's a risk, perhaps, to whisper into this open space that my heart is taken with someone. But I rest in the arms of a greater Beloved and know that "the plans of the Lord stand firm forever". So with quiet joy, I can share with you some lessons I'm learning in this season. If you could see my eyes, I think they'd be shining right now. [If you are hoping for many details about him, this post may disappoint you—except that you may know that he is both godly and gentlemanly]).

Last year, God sovereignly brought into my life a person who is like me. He has a similar heartbeat and his dreams move in the same direction as mine—something I had thought I might never find. We can talk about anything and nothing and almost everything, and somehow our minds meet and ultimately agree. I smile inside when I remember our first dress-up dinner date. After he pulled out my chair for me (much to the confusion of our local waiter, who thought it was his job to help me with my chair), we almost ordered the same thing off the many-paged menu—we truly do have so much in common, to the point that we like most of the same foods.

We're alike—in the important things, and in many of the inconsequential things, too. Every once in a while, though, there's a moment when I think, "Wow, we're actually really different." And next the thought that crosses me is, "Was I wrong, I thought we were so alike?" Then I realize that the biggest differences I find between us are often because (surprise!) he's a man, and I'm a woman. (Yes, we have one of those old-fashioned, Garden-of-Eden type relationships: one male and one female). Anyhow, those "wow-we're-different" moments require a bit of a perspective adjustment, to remember that we're supposed to be different. That it's OK. Then I remember that indeed, I like him very much, not only in spite of our differences but because of our differences.

I am not the first or the last to find gender differences confusing at times. When we talk about gender, 1 Peter 3 is one of the passages of choice. You know at least the female side of the script. It says that submission, inner beauty, gentleness, trust and quietness are qualities of a holy woman. But less often do I hear commentary on 1 Peter 3:5-6, "Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror."

Why this mention of fear? That fearful heart is the opposite of a quiet, trusting one. The opposite of submission to God (which then entails submission to a husband, should God give you or me one) is a rebellion that comes out of a heart that is fearful. Because of falsely-rooted fear, women abandon that gentle and quiet spirit that submits "as unto the Lord" and seek to rule over their men. They live with...
Fear that this creature's differences will cause me grief.
Fear that if I don't show him how it's done, it won't get done right. 
Fear that if I don't speak my mind, every time, he'll never learn.
Fear, fear, fear that is finally rooted in doubting God's design. 

It's the clay questioning the potter's workmanship: why did you make us this way? So different?
Compatibility is the supposed be all and end all in romantic relationships. We have this idea that our life partners should be as alike to us as possible. As I've watched the same-sex attraction crowd grow bigger and more boisterous, I think: these ladies want someone who is more alike to them than different. They don't value the difference like God does.  It doesn't surprise me that what would follow on the heels of a vehement feminist movement is a growing group of women who would seek long-term marriage-like partnerships with other women.  

When you spend your days imbibing doctrine that says that...
women are better than men, 
women are more capable than men, 
women can do anything that men can do....
remind me why you'd ever want or need a man? Let alone a man who (unlike your lesb!an partner) could leave you in the vulnerable position of motherhood, dependent on him for provision and protection? In this way I can see, through their perspective, why lesb!ans seek out female partners for themselves. Because they don't trust that God made men different for a reason, or that His creation was very good when it left His capable hands. They doubt man's capability because they firstly doubt his Maker.

Most of our problems come from Eden, from a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what happened at Eden. 
Fear says our man-woman differences are a flaw.
Trust says our man-woman differences are by design.

Elizabeth Elliot tackles women who want their men to be women, too, in Let Me Be a Woman.
Strange how easy it seems to be for some women to expect their husbands to be women, to act like women, to do what is expected of women. Instead of that they are men, they act like men, they do what is expected of men, and thus they do the unexpected. They surprise their wives by being men and some wives wake up to the awful truth that it was not, in fact, a man that they wanted after all. It was marriage, or some vague idea of marriage, which provided the fringe benefits they were looking for.... But somehow marriage has also insinuated into their cozy lives this unpredictable, unmanageable, unruly creature called a man..... Anything he does which seems to her inexplicable or indefensible she dismissed with 'Just like a man!' as though this were a condemnation or at best an excuse instead of a very good reason for thanking God. It is a man she married, after all, and she is lucky if he acts like a man....

Know your man. Know that there are things that make him different from you. His masculinity will help to explain some of them."
Even in our creation, we were literally made differently. Each man still bears the image of Adam, constructed of clay. Every woman was, thousands of years ago, whittled from the bone withdrawn from man's side. A part of him was removed to make her, and later woman was rejoined to man to provide that which was missing in him. He sang a song when he saw her; he knew she was exactly what he lacked.

Our gender differences are more than OK. They're good. Sure, they're thoroughly tarnished by the Fall (again, we must properly understand Eden's events, curses and consequences), hence the chaos that often ensues. I've had more than a few bewildering "man moments" in my life, when a man's actions or words (or lack thereof) confused me. But the gentle, quiet woman puts her trust in God in these moments. She keeps listening, asking, sharing, and treading kindly particularly in the areas she cannot understand.

There are lots of questions to ask if you are considering dating, engagement, or marriage. Questions of similarities in viewpoints or theology or plans. But there is never any question of the chain of authority in the marriage relationship: God, then man, then woman. "Should I marry within my gender, or marry another gender?" was also already answered in Eden, no need to ask that again. We all face that same test the first pair faced: will we trust His Word?

Somehow together we reflect His image in a way that we could not have, if we were all one gender. We are "heirs together of the grace of life"—"and that life is in His Son."

This man who pursues my heart and seeks to understand me is like me (in more ways than I can count), but he's also different. And you know what? That's a good thing. Actually, after God surveyed the land, the sea, the sun and the stars, He called them "good". But on the day God formed humankind, "male and female He created them", He declared his work "very good." 

A woman freed from fear is able to quietly trust in His very good design.

"Man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man....Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God." —Paul

March 31, 2014

the expense of worship

If you look at my bulletin board today, you'll see a portrait of charming, impoverished Burmese boy with paint on his skin. I found the image in an old calendar a few weeks ago, and now he smiles silently above my desk. For years, I've posted pictures of international children around my home or office, and donated to child-related causes. I tell myself that I love international children.

But then I remember a recent night. I was hurrying home from doing important-person stuff and a beggar child surprised me by grabbing at my hand in the dark. She wanted change. I didn't stop long enough to pay attentionI brushed her off and was secretly glad that it was time to cross the street anyway....

I guess that's why I came to Asia: to brush off poor local beggar girls, because I'm in a hurry to go home and post pictures of cute kids from Burma.

Recently, my flatmate came home extra-late after a long day at the office. I paused what I was doing, welcomed her home, and offered to heat up the supper that was sitting cold on the table. Then I cut her a dish of cold watermelon chunks (perfect for a day when summer felt closer than ever) and visited with her for a bit (she loves this). I'm nice, right? She thanked me for the watermelon and the visit.

But what she didn't know, was that before the she came home, I had carefully chopped up kiwi, watermelon, pomegranate and banana and tucked them in the back of the fridge. Behind a few other things, where I hoped the flatmates wouldn't notice them. As I chopped my fruit, I thought, "I hope the girls don't come home while I'm chopping this. So that I don't have to share it, and I can save my fruit salad for a few days' lunches...." 

I guess that's why I came to Asia: to hoard my carefully washed and cut fruit, but still make myself look good by chopping up watermelon when the flatmate comes home.

Not long ago, my other flatmate was fasting for one of many religious festivals. During her fast, potatoes were one of the few permissible foods. She wandered into the pantry and asked if she could eat my chips that I had just bought that afternoon. My healthy chips. That I bought and carried home all by myself. From the store directly on my route home from work. (I'm trying to make it sound like it was hard work to acquire them, but it wasn't). I let her have them, and she promised to replace them the next day.

I didn't expect her to replace them, and she didn't, and she still hasn't. The problem is, it bothered me that she didn't return my chips. I found myself thinking things like, "I knew she had no intention of replacing the food she was taking from me. I wanted those chips. She was lazy to not pick up her own food for her fast...." Her fast to the god who sees nothing....

I guess that's why I came to Asia: to hold grudges against gold-god worshipping flatmates because they didn't return my fifty-cent Lite and Fit chips that I didn't need anyway. 

Father, this heart!
Have you seen it?

Can you change it?

In my heart I see Jonah. I put on the show; I go to a far country. "Hey, look at me! Listen to this testimony of how I stopped running away from God! Hey! Pay attention over here, I'm going to do a good work!" I tell someone they're perishing, but when they turn their head and actually show interest in what I'm saying, not only am I surprised (I mean, I didn't really expect them to listen to truth anyway), but I'm busy whining that I can't find a shade tree under which to eat my Lite and Fit chips while they perish.

In my heart I see the prodigal's older brother. No big history of wild living. I think I'm faithful and serving the Father, I have a list of deeds I can show. But when mercy and grace are lavished on the prodigal, I'm not rejoicing. Instead, I'm crossing my arms, furrowing my brow, and wondering where my "good girl reward" is hiding. But my Father sees that I'm keeping the nicer salad for myself or pushing away a beggar child.

At the split between Matthew 5 and 6, I found these convicting words:
"If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? ...And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? ...Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets...to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
God saw more worth in the hearts of the pagan Ninevites, who were cut open by the Word of God, than in the heart of proud, Jewish Jonah. Because He's not looking for religious status or skin colour or upbringingHe looks at the heart. He's looking for true worshippers, who worship in spirit and in truth. And the thing is, what is worshipful coming from one person, might be inauthentic coming from another—He looks at the heart. The difference is broad, between a gift and a sacrificial gift.

I don't want to be Jonah.
I don't want to be the older brother. 
"Love must be sincere," so I want to be like Mary, who "took a pound of very costly oil...anointed the feet of J'esus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil."

Mary teaches me that real worship is costly. Mary gave something of real value. Perhaps my tiny, daily equivalent would be me giving up my fruit salad, that I wanted for me, instead of the watermelon, that was easy to share. Inviting someone over when I don't feel like it, not just when I do. Waking up earlier than is convenient to my flesh, to spend time alone with Him. I was asked a few years ago: "Are you content to offer J'esus that which cost you nothing?" What sort of a gift is that? What kind of worship is that? Love Him lavishly; worship Him expensively. Only you know what that will look like in your life.

I remember some cost, in coming to Asia. I remember bawling on the bumper of my friend's car, telling her how I didn't want to leave her, but I wanted to leave her, all at the same time. I recall reconciling the calendar and the calculator, figuring out when my last biggish paycheques would stop coming. It was sad, to leave my tiny niece and siblings behind. That might have been oil I broke over His feet nearly two years ago (and that oil was worth every penny—He is worthy), but what have I given Him lately? It's easy to stop giving Him gifts that cost, and just give gifts that look like they cost. He looks at the heart.

Mary teaches me that when I give Him gifts that cost me something, others will notice a difference. Because that kind of expensive, generous-toward-God living is as uncommon as breaking perfume worth a year's wages on a Man's dusty feet. I know this: the smell of a life lived as a sacrificial offering will fill the house. It will float into the elevator, and then the office. It will cling to my hair, as I run errands and encounter beggars and talk to flatmates. Half-hearted service is weak; costly worship effects a powerful testimony. 

And I guess that's why I came to Asia: to worship, at any cost.

"You are worthy, our Lord and God, 
to receive glory and honor and power, 
for you created all things, 
and by your will they were created and have their being."  
—The twenty-four elders

March 23, 2014

there is no other

"My friend asked me to pick up this wall hanging for her." It's Thursday and my friend has recently returned from an out-of-town trip. She's wrestling a decoration out of multiple layers of cardboard and packing tape.

Slowly, a brass sun emerges. "Wow!" I commend her choice, "that looks nice!" (I mean, glitzy and gaudy are the name of the game here, so a large brass sun is actually less showy than many decorations I see.)

As she pulls off the last bits of cardboard, I see that the sun has a face and a mustache. I comment, "That's an interesting face, for a wall hanging."

"It's a god that my friend worships. I mean, I worship it, too. You know, every Saturday when I go to the temple. It's the sun god." The words come out so matter-of-factly, as if we're discussing yesterday's weather.

An hour or so later, the dal and spicy eggs are eaten and we're still talking. "My dad is bothering me about getting married. He wants to know when I will marry. He wants me to make a plan for my life."

She looks across the table at me. She has serious eyes—the kind borne by a woman who lost her mother in her preteens. Whose father's job meant transfers around the country every few years. Who has said a lot of goodbyes. Who thinks deeper than it appears at first meeting. Who lives with many fears.

It comes out, "I'm scared to get married." 

I understand, I tell her. It's a big commitment.

And next, "I'm emotional. The smallest things that happen make me have mood swings."

I understand, I tell her. My emotions shift, too.

The conversation moves from marriage, to spouses who fight, to pornography, and back to marriage. It's empty in every corner for her. No wonder she's scared. 

I've thought that I am not one of those "typical" emotional women. It's true that I'm steadier than some. But particularly in the last few weeks, I was feeling unsteady. One day I'd be relatively cheerful, another tearful, and what concerned me the most was that it seemed almost out of my control.

I woke up on Friday with anxiety clutching my heart and I knew my day was starting off poorly again. I'd prayed, I'd asked others to pray, and this time, I'd had enough—enough of these weird mood swings.

I cried out again to the unseen God, the God who created the sun. I told Him how I couldn't understand my emotions. I reminded Him that only He knew why I was in such an upset state. And this time, I insisted. I confessed my sins, and I told Him I needed to hear from Him, because He promises He'll guide us if we are right with Him. I went back to sleep, and woke again a few hours later, with old truth coming to freshly into my mind. I believe He was answering my call to Him.

As the first hours of Friday's daylight began to come through my window, He told me that I have other gods, too. Not brass gods, but people gods. I have been seeking to find my significance, my purpose, and my peace in people. I want my human friends to be able to probe the depths of my soul, to know, love, understand and complete me. I want them to save me from my problems, or give me joy. When they don't, I get frustrated. My emotions rest on their success in pleasing me, so my emotions are constantly jolting.

He told me, "Free your gods, Julie. Let people be people. Appreciate them for what they are, bear with them for what they aren't. The bad news is that they are fallen mini-Mes, and they can only reflect to you broken portions of Me. The good news is that I know your heart, your mind, your emotions like no one else could. I will sustain you."
He told me, "I am God and there is no other."
"You shall have no other gods before me."
No brass other on the wall—I've got that down.
No human other in my heart—this, I struggle to learn.
And is there really any difference, whether my god is brass or human?
The heavy cloud lifted when I realized all over again that my significance, purpose and peace come only from Him. When I looked up to the God of all, He answered my cry for mercy.

I didn't ask my friend if she went to worship the sun this Saturday, but she usually does. And this Saturday, I worshipped the Son with a new appreciation for His goodness to me. But my friend and I are not so different. We have feelings that aren't rooted in His truth. We have gods we need to lay aside for the Living God. But when I think of her, facing the same problems, but not having the same help from her god, crying out and receiving no answer.... it makes me sad.

No wonder she's scared; no wonder she's sad.

It's Sunday morning. We're chopping fresh fruit, and rummaging for the toaster and butter. I tell her my recent story. About my unexplainable tears and moods (I tear up even telling her). About my cry for help on Friday morning. About the peace He gave me in reminding me to have Him as God, and let no other take His place. "He's so steady," I tell her, "People change; He never does."
The cantaloupe is tasteless and the toast got too dark, but I hope something in my words makes her hungry. My soul is litmay a few rays shine across the tabletop.

"...An unknown God....this is what I am going to proclaim to you."
"Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; 
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame...
 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

All the chisels I've dulled carving idols of stone 
that have crumbled like sand 'neath the waves...
You're the only One who's faithful to me.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
    he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
    I will call on him as long as I live.

When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want.

February 23, 2014

death and a coconut

When I enter the living room, it smells like death. There's weathered, papery, yellow skin and eyes that betray what no one wants to say: this man is dying.

Die he did. The next time I see his wife, it is at the temple. She's wearing white (the traditional funeral colour) and is somber. We sit cross-legged on the floor, me and a temple full of local people. The funeral director doubles as a musician, and they play a tabla and other instruments. People sing from hymnals, and when there is a break between songs people come and go, pausing before they leave for a small bow to the gods. But what distracts me the most are the coconuts.

Coconuts and pineapples are spread on a table, to be offered to the gods at the front of the temple. Each coconut is topped with some sort of sweet, and specially arranged. All I can think is, "What do coconuts have to do with dying? With souls and life and death?"

These questions distract me until I see my dear friend at the front of the temple, nearest to the multiple deities. The girl with red nail polish, a ready laugh, a sweet smile and five hundred scooter-accident scars from vivacious living. The girl who tickles me and can always round up a crowd for a party. But today she's different, sober, dressed in white, and holds a gift for the god. She has a white strip of cloth around her face, to keep her breath from defiling god. She seems to me a world away from the girl I knew before this moment.

We sit in the temple for nearly an hour, and I'm left alone with my thoughts, because I can't understand the local language and only catch pieces via translation. And ultimately, I can only think one thing: if I'm right, they're all wrong. This whole temple full. This whole neighbourhood full. Almost this whole city full. 

The thought is staggering. 

The musician/religious leader is talking: "Between ages 25 and 50 is your real life. That's the time when you need to do good karma. Do good. Do good." 

When she has the chance, my friend tells us with quiet joy: Grandpa did good. He went fresh. He was clean. Just before he died, he asked to do a worship service to the god. And, she adds with extra zeal, his soul left through his eyes. Our mutual friend fills in some blanks for me: It's one of the best ways to go. If his eyes were open when he died, it's a good sign.

But inside, I know it's a resounding gong, a clanging cymbal, the stuff of earth:

Birdseed for pigeons.
Water and washing.
Open eyes.
Good deeds.

This is earthly, flighty, featherweight.
We need something heavenly, enduring, eternal.

Coconuts may feed a physical body. Water may wash a physical body.
But what can feed and cleanse our spirits?

I wouldn't trust a coconut. 

A certain gravitas comes across me again as I type these sentences. And I told God, help me write this, because people should know. Because, if we're right, they're all wrong. It's simple logic. 

If we believe that, every one of us should be acting. 
If we don't believe that, then are we pretending to believe the rest?

If there's only one way, there's only one way.
If there are more ways,
then "we are of all people most to be pitied."
Because we're giving up "houses, or brothers, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or land" for this one way, one truth, one life.

There are millions of people believing in the power of a coconut, a bit of water, a fast, open eyes, a stack of good deeds done during middle age. If you read this, you can't say you didn't know. I don't like to be pushy, but this I will push: what are you doing about it? I push it with myself too: what am I doing about it?

We live in a new part of the city, and they in the old. Sometimes I wonder, how do we bridge the gap? Their roots in this culture are deep. They're offering pineapples to deities in the way their forefathers did, but have 3G in their back pockets. Tradition, family and roots call them loudly, but so does the internet, the bigger outside world, and new conversations.

Watching the world go by from the back of my friend's scooter, I am dodging cows and tucking in my limbs. She shows me a roadside vendor selling wooden stretchers used for cremation. Next, she indicates a man with a fortune-telling parrot. I wonder: how do we start to have new conversations? I try to love and ask good questions, even on the back of a weaving scooter, because I believe that real Love calls loudly, louder than roots or traditions or old stories. And real Love is what everyone is ultimately looking for.

We keep asking questions, keep opening conversations.
until they hear, death will be appeased with a coconut. 
And I don't know about you, but I wouldn't trust a coconut.

 "I hold the keys of Hades and of death..." 
"I am the door."
"Knock, and it will be opened to you." 

But "how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?"

Photo credits to my friends M+C.

February 20, 2014

accidental reflections

There's a two-dollar, two-hour tour offered daily in our city. The walking tour begins just above a colourful temple, when morning prayers are commencing. A projector hums and invariably the guide clicks to a slide with an illustration of a man on a horse. "Sir noticed that near the river, rabbits chased dogs and scared them away. He thought, 'What brave rabbits live here!' And so, he built a city here." Between the guide's thick accent and the din of the bells and chanting below, the story of the founding of our city is a bit difficult to understand. But so begins the tour, which weaves through a few of the 1,600 temples that inhabit the older portion of our city.

If the rabbits used to dominate the dogs here, there must have been a coup d'├ętat, because today dogs scurry around every corner, not rabbits. They come in every size and they tear into garbage cans, ravaging for food. My walk between home and work is a bit a chaotic some days, with thick traffic and swarthy men on mopeds and endless honking and yes, street dogs.

Yesterday evening, as I left work, my sandals collecting sand, my body dodging onlookers and vehicles, one sentence escaped my mind and drifted into His sky: Thank you, God, for this beautiful city. (Sometimes what I pray surprises even me.) I wondered how I could look at that chaos and dirt and think of beauty.

A friend visited recently, and he saw many dirty streets and stray dogs and poor children. My local friends were constantly asking him, "So, what do you think of our country?" He could not speak for the country, but he could speak for our city, and he commented on the delicious meals he had here. But depending on who was asking, sometimes he'd mention how surprised he was at the garbage he sees nearly everywhere here. It clutters and piles and pollutes. It shocked him a little.

As someone who grew up in a third-world city, living in a dirty city again is not so distressing for me. To be honest, I hardly notice it, unless I step in it or smell a stench. But it was interesting to see my city through his eyes: truly, our city is not beautiful, especially to first-world visitors. There are swathes that are nice, if they're gated, guarded and groomed. But in general, the sides of the streets are piles of dust with scarlet trails of spittle. Compacted against the would-be curbs are flyers, food, and feces. The gutters are open or non-existent. Shanty-towns crowd what were open fields. Government housing blocks remind me of a concentration camp: grey with narrow, dank hallways separating one-room dwellings and the omnipresent garbage crunching in the cracks and corners. This is our city. 

And yet I still said, Thank you, God, for this beautiful city.

What makes this city beautiful is that it is full of bearers of the image of true Deity. Most are without a true knowledge of Him, so they reflect Him accidentally. Like a carver's woodwork would bear his trademark grooves by no choice of its own, the people of my city prove the Word true without even meaning to. In their living they bear testimony to the Living One (for "in Him we live and move and have our being").

How do they reflect Him?

They reflect His creativity,
with their patterns, textures, carvings and designs.

They reflect His generosity, 
when they give meals, time and gifts, over and over again.    

They reflect His artistry,
in their dancing, singing, painting and drawing.

They reflect His authenticity,
when offering a fair price after seeing white skin.

They reflect His joy,
with their propensity for parties and affinity for bright colours.

They reflect His relational nature,
when they long for relationship, thrive in relationship, and bring vigour to relationships.

Anyone who has lived abroad, indeed anyone who has lived, must admit that it is people that make a place. The Yukon is stunning, but it's better with a friend to talk to over salmon chowder. Long walks in dusty alleys where anything from dried dung to sheep heads to roosters are for sale...are more fascinating when they are walked with a friend. People (not dogs, litter or pollution) ultimately make a place, beautiful or otherwise. People who reflect—in fallen, less-than-glorious ways—the beautiful image of God.

In this city morning prayers go up from over 1,600 temples. It would be hard to find a local who denies there is a god. But who is He? What is His name? How does He want to be worshiped?

This is my morning prayer, if you will: that the accidental reflections of His beauty that I see here would give way to intentional, redeemed reflections—that are found in right relationship with the true Deity. He is beautiful. Amen.

January 19, 2014

in between, not yet

I'm standing in an almost-ready building.

The walls are rough and unfinished, with drips of paint drizzling down bare cement. On every floor, men are sawing or drilling, or observing as others saw and drill. Women with traditional ear and nose ornaments shuffle by with hand brooms—cleaning up after the men. Beneath me, I see electricians wrangling thick, tangled black wire-snakes on the pavement. The elevators are installed, but still tightly wrapped in green plastic—tools clank as technicians in the gaping elevator shaft tighten the lift and prepare it to carry loads. From the open ends of the building, I can see two-story homes and high-rise apartments stretching endlessly in every direction. 

Words start clumping in my head.

This is our new office building. Or, it will be soon. In the office there's discussion and translation and hand motions and repetition. No, we want it over there. No, just one wall here, not two. More translation. A measurement. A diagram of dreams: This is what it should look like when you're done. It is no small task to get this workspace ready for us.

I head out to pace up the stairs to the next landing, and then back down. There's a comfortable wind that blows through the breezeway, and space for my thoughts, which say something like this: it takes so much physical to live the spiritual.  

None of us are building experts or carpenters or electricians. We don't speak much of the local language; we can't quite understand their culture, try as we might. And inside our chests, we want spiritual work. I can hear it in our voices, feel it in our aches.

But the flesh is sweating and needs air conditioning. The body needs an income, a job, an office. The government requires paperwork. To that end, there are wires to be tied and holes to be drilled and papers to be signed. Hundreds of physical details to take care of...details in which somehow we see 
parables and 
parallels and 
for the spiritual.

Pacing in that breezeway, I am distracted by the in between. Life lived in the "not yet" zone. Isn't life full of in betweens? No longer newborn, but not yet toddler. No longer a kid, but not really a responsible adult. No longer just friends, but not yet lovers. But the greatest in between ache is this one: we are saved from the penalty of sin, but not yet saved from its presence. We're given new hearts, but we're still aching for our new bodies. We're told to fix our eyes on heavenly things...yet it takes so much physical to live that spiritual. 

In this quick breath of a life, we'll always be in between.

We are looking for "a better country—a heavenly one." 
But we live in this country. 

We are looking for the city He has prepared for us. 
But we live in this city. 

I'm still in the grey hallway, and somewhere below a young boy is poking the dirt with a stick. Across the street, a man carries a thin plastic bag of milky brown tea to his office. And up here, in between builders and painters and cleaners, I can almost touch the tension of the "not yet". How long, O Lord?

I said that it takes so much physical to live the spiritual. To do spiritual work, many physical prerequisites must also be met. But I could also say that it takes so much spiritual to live the physical aright.

How do we sweat and pour foundations and wipe floors and paint walls...with hope? How do we sign documents and wash dishes and visit the neighbour...with a heart toward eternity? How do we handle the mundane or the tragic or the terrifying...with a heart of contentment?

We can't be spiritual about the physical, unless we "lay aside everything that hinders" and fix our eyes on Him. I'm glad that the writer to the Hebrews admits that sin "so easily entangles", because I know then that he struggled as I do, to not be entangled. Living appropriately in the physical sphere requires a heart that is laying aside sin and pursuing righteousness, and this begins in our inner man, in our spirit.

We lay aside hindrances not only for our sakes, but for the sake of the people who witness us. I have a friend here who asks me questions: What kinds of movies do you watch, and why? What kind of music do you listen to, and why? Would you sleep with your boyfriend? How would you discipline your child? She's watching me. She wants to see if the invisible, spiritual realm that I talk about really influences the visible, physical realm in which we live. She's watching for physical evidence of a spiritual change. I can't consistently, truly produce the physical without the spiritual: It takes so much spiritual to live the physical aright.

So we fix our eyes on Him, and on His diagram: This is what it will look like when you're done.
And we run with perseverance.

The two are inseparable: it takes so much physical to live the spiritual, but yet it also takes so much spiritual to live the physical aright. As Charmichael so accurately stated, "Souls...are more or less securely fastened into bodies." Ours is the task of balancing both; of living rightly in these two different but always-overlapping realms. 

Father, teach us to see in the now
parables and
parallels and
for what is not yet, for that which lasts forever.
As you know, we're still in between.  

Maranatha. Come quickly!

"God is not ashamed to be called their God, 
for he has prepared a city for them."
Author Unknown, to the Hebrews 

"And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  
fixing our eyes on J, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, 
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, 
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Author Unknown, to the Hebrews

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

*Photo credits to my friends M&C 

December 31, 2013

a glimpse of God

They fell in love because they liked dancing together. "Not the best reason to marry someone," she admits, "but we did it anyway. We sure loved dancing!"

She waves a wrinkled hand and retells stories from years gone by. When she and her husband reached retirement, she wanted to give herself to important things, like a street-corner truth-sharing, or volunteer work with orphans. But her plans changed when she got stuck caring for her ailing husband, who is eight years her senior. Well, "stuck" is how she felt, until it occurred to her that she wasn't being held back from ministry, this was her ministry—caring for her dance partner. So, care she has.

On the wall in their bedroom three pictures hang: one from their wedding, one from their twenty-fifth anniversary, and one from their fiftieth anniversary. The changes that fifty years wrought on their faces and bodies are dramatic. Now, it's been eight years since that last portrait.

The man she married was a handsome, capable man who took her on cruises to the Far East. The man she's married to today is voiceless and withered, staring up at pictures of cartoons above his bed, contained by a crib-like railing. When he needs her, he squeezes a small squeaky toy.

This is how they're celebrating Christmas: she stays within earshot of the squeak. This is how they're celebrating love.

In the dining room, there's another couple. Well actually, now she's in the kitchen and he's in the entry way greeting guests. But on the dining room wall, they are pictured in a faded 8x10, cracking big smiles only 30 years ago.

They're greyer than 30 years ago, but the wide smiles and happy eyes remain. Tonight he's enthusiastically organizing games; she's managing multiple pots on the stove...and they both make it look so easy. She tells me that they had a family dinner in the afternoon; this evening's Christmas dinner is an "extra" meal. "Just" a meal for about fifteen people who don't have family around this Christmas. Just the way these two do life—they are given to hospitality.

The love I see between these two is demonstrates itself as like-mindedness. He asks for testimonies; she always has one to share. He leads the study; she contributes her insight. He invites a friend over; she makes her famous cake. He brings home the proverbial bacon; she graciously cares for his aging parents. They both glow when they talk about the good news. Their lives are one, split as by a semicolon: two related thoughts, flowing in the same direction, with the same idea in mind. Their love is evidenced by kind interaction and teamwork.

This is how they're celebrating Christmas; with a stirring spoon in one hand, straws for group games in the other. This is how they're celebrating love.

In the living room there are a dozen young adults playing games, laughing, and being extra-friendly. It's easy, when you're young and your skin is tight and your teeth are straight, to look for a love that is all jitters and woo-woo and lightening.

I don't have much to say about the youngsters, because they don't have much history yet. They're exploring. Giggling. Flirting a little. And probably giving no thought to the dining room, or the back room.

This is how the young are celebrating Christmas; smiles and nervous butterflies and glances. This is how they're celebrating love. 

I leave the back bedroom with a certain heaviness, and this is why:
I don't think that kind of love is in me.

Living room love? Yes.
Dining room love? Maybe.
Back room love? No.

What young soul doesn't want the woo-woo of the living room? It's heady; it's fun. It's a gift of God when it's guided by wisdom and truth. But friend, it's the cotton candy version of more enduring love—it's good but you can't live on it.

A young person could even value of the agreeableness of the dining room. Cooking dinner, taking care of the inlaws, steadily performing our duties day-in and day-out. It's a bit boring, but it's the stuff of life: potbellies and three square meals. This dinner, that outing. Haircuts and hassles, cancer and curry. Sunrise, sunset. We can see the value in their faithfulness.

But the door between me and the back room is closed. There's something in me that doesn't want the reality-check of that stubbly jaw or rumpled pajamas,
...where the pictures on the wall show decline,
...where look on his face reminds me that
"death will soon disrobe us all",
...where I see a still-capable wife dying to other dreams.

No, I don't think that back room love is in me.

Slowly, two thoughts come to mind.

First of all, love is of God. I could never conjure it up myself. And this is my hope: He who loves is born of God and knows God. He can produce this love-fruit in me, if I abide in Him. This is a miracle of His grace. That back room love is not in me yet, but He can produce it in me.

Secondly, old, enduring love can only come from people who are old and enduring. I've often wondered at the wisdom of God in making pregnancy a nine-month period. It gives a couple time to adjust, to dream, to plan, to prepare for a new little life. Except for those tabloid-like tales of women who give birth unexpectedly, there's really no such thing as a pregnancy that is still a surprise by the time the baby arrives.

In the same way, God never calls us to be elderly before we have first been young, and then middle-aged. In this I see His wisdom, too. He gives us time to discover what love is, at all its stages. At my age, it's no wonder that back room love seems beyond me. My call is not to serve an old husband, but it is to build a good wisdom-foundation for enduring love. To mediate on what true love looks like. To follow godly older examples.

So that someday, that back room love will be in me, too.

It's Christmas in this house, and the common areas are packed with people. But the real romance is in that back room. When a little squeak sends two loving, ever-available feet pattering over to see what's wrong. When a woman of integrity stands by her promise. When love, which is of God, appears in human fleshhere we catch a glimpse of God.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, 
God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 
—John, in 1 John 4:12  

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; 
and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God.
 —John, in 1 John 4:7 

"‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: 
this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. 
It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run:
being in love was the explosion that started it."
 —C. S. Lewis on Chr!stian Marriage

December 22, 2013

i found Christmas

It doesn't look like Christmas in our dusty Asian city. It's just like any other day: cows meander in the streets, a traditionally-dressed woman carries a bundle of sticks on her head, puppies yip and yap, and security guards chew betel-nut and stroll along the borders of my complex. The temperature is a comfortable +26°C and the air smells faintly of smoke, though it's not coming from fireplaces with stocking-adorned mantels. I hear a pounding hammer and cooking vessels clanging. On Friday, I asked an employee: "Have you ever celebrated Christmas before?" He shook his head and didn't really look like he cared whether he ever would. Christmas is no biggie here.

Canadian friends were visiting me for a few weeks, and together we found gangly plastic Christmas trees available in three heights: 3', 5', and 7'. We rustled through kitschy gold plastic bells to find a few lights and star garlands with which to decorate my tree of choice—the 5'. Later in the week, we picked bugs out of the flour and ground coarse sugar to make it slightly finer, for some Christmas baking. I'm hoarding bits of mail that come and putting them under the tree to open on Christmas morning. Sitting alone in the office on Saturday, I chomped my one imported candy cane and listened to Mary, Did You Know? and I'll Be Home for Christmas. And so it goes; I'm pulling together bits of Christmas, Asia-style.

A few nights ago, my roommates had a heated argument during supper. I tentatively dipped my chapati into my greenish-black moong dal and then escaped to my room as soon as possible to avoid the clatter and conflict. When I resurfaced, still a bit tired by their fighting, the conversation with the remaining roommate was still about house business and roommate matters. Should we have a grocery purchasing schedule? Why does so-and-so do such-and-such? We stood meters away from my Christmas decorations, discussing things that seemed so far from peace on earth, on this December 21.

But then, the conversation took a turn toward grace. Toward talk of relationships and forgiving before the sun goes down. "Your Book says that? My dad used to teach me to not go to bed angry, but I didn't know it was from the Book." I commended her for the apology she'd texted to the other roommate about the argument they'd had. Suddenly, my roommate said, "You know, it's been a long time since we've had a Book study together on a Sunday. How about tomorrow, we have breakfast and a study?"

And just like that, I remembered that Christmas is right here, because Christmas happens wherever incarnation happens. Living with roommates of such different backgrounds, worldviews and cultures is challenging. But the Christ Who lives in my body has a chance to incarnate over moong dal, at the dining room table, or next to the Christmas tree. He has the chance to shine through in the elevator, in the way I speak to an employee or boss, or in the love I show to a neighbour. And that is the essence of Christmas: incarnation.

When He lives in me, I live Christmas. And for all the cozy descriptors we use for this season, true Christmas is as bundled with tears, frustrations and struggle as it is with joy, peace and goodwill. Didn't the need for Christmas start with a power struggle, that of Adam's race seeking to overthrow God's authority? Haven't the forces of evil battled his coming ever since, seeking to eliminate the royal line? The fact of the baby's divinity didn't minimize the severity of the contractions that throbbed through Mary's abdomen on Christmas night, or eliminate Joseph's struggle to keep pure and obedient until Mary was his. When the incarnation was approaching its culmination, Christ was sweating blood. Don't think Christmas is missing because you don't have warm fuzzies. The incarnation of which we speak at Christmas often comes on the heels of hardship.

When that word which we heard from the beginning (1 Jn 2:5) is in us (1:10), and we keep His word (2:5) and let it abide in us (2:24), we are applying the theology of Christmas. He came among us so that the truth could be in us (1 Jn 1:8). Our eyes, mouths, hands, and feet can be used to physically represent truth; to give flesh and bones to spiritual concepts like grace and truth. "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 Jn 2:6). J'esus can walk the earth again, through me, through you.

Christmas is "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
Christmas is "Let it be to me according to your word."
Christmas is "Not my will but Yours be done."
Christmas is five hundred bowls of dal in exchange for fifteen good conversations.
Christmas does whatever it takes to minister reconciliation.

So this morning, we lived Christmas. We sat next to my scrawny tree with a candle burning, but that had nothing to do with it, really. Between breakfast and our Sunday tasks, we talked through John 1, about light and life and incarnation. And here, in my dusty corner, I found Christmas.

November 6, 2013

age is beauty

I'm in my late twenties—and apparently this is the age when female friends start telling me about the wear and tear on their bodies. One complained to me about the crow's feet around her eyes and the way her skin looked definitively older after just one more summer in the sun. Another has been finding grey hairs, and she's only in her early thirties. A third told me how a guy asked her if the mark on her leg was a surgery scar—to which she had to honestly reply, “No, that's a stretch mark.” We're starting to look back on photos taken only four years ago and think “Wow, I looked much younger then! Didn't my skin look nicer then?” Time is taking its toll. And too many of us are not OK with that.

Ever since the crow's feet remark, I have been renewed in thinking about the beauty that is available to us in Je'sus. How wonderful it is to get older with J'esus. Because only in J'esus do we find an escape from the world's dying system, where women must fight to stop the age clock. In every other Western worldview, every other system, women have to grapple with the issue of becoming "un-beautiful" as they age. Their physical feminine glory loses it's luster and then, what is life? Fifty more years of unbeautifulness, a downhill slope?

But in the B!ble, age is beauty.
Because beauty is in your good works (as done through the grace of God, I Tim. 2:9-10, Eph 2:8-10, Rev. 19:8).
And the older you get, the more time you've had to do good works.
So your beauty blossoms as time goes by.

Which means thirty is more lovely than twenty.
Forty is gorgeous, darling!
And fifty? By then, you'll be stunning, my friend, if you continue on His path.

My friends with the scars and stretch marks and white hairs? They are getting more beautiful, as they donate their time to orphanages, outreaches, and to the children of cross-cultural workers. One cleans her crotchety neighbours' house and is the only J'esus they see. Another finds sponsors for needy children and yet another spends weekends with an older lady from her chur'ch to provide companionship. They organize summer camps. They open their homes to people needing a place to stay. They suffer through health problems that limit them, or family difficulties, but they don't lose hope. One took in some friends of mine who were in a crisis when I was far away in Asia—the bond that has grown between them is beautiful.  

They remind me of 1 Timothy 5:10, they have:
brought up children,”
lodged strangers,”
washed the saints' feet,”
relieved the afflicted,”
diligently followed every good work.”

They don't make a big deal of the beautiful things they are doing.
They do them out of gratitude to Chr!st.
These are beautiful women.

They evidence their beauty not only in these altruistic acts, but also in their daily routines. They wake up each morning, pin back their hair, add a touch of mascara, and go through another day with a smile and faithfulness. Some have never had a man call them beautiful, and I know their hearts long deeply for that recognition and affirmation. But the Lover of their souls has called them Beloved, beautiful, and has betrothed Himself to them. As He takes deeper root in their hearts and lives, I see how things are changing, as their lives better reflect His beautiful character. They are “not afraid” (Prov. 31:21), no matter what the world may tell them about the passage of time or the state of their bodies.

So I say,
Be happy for the way your skin has weathered because you were chasing kids and telling them about hope. Remember how the five pounds you gained last summer were because you were eating bad camp food, so that you could share love. Be thankful for the callous you got weeding the neighbour's garden or the scar on your finger that reminds you of that job that was difficult, but you stuck it out. This is no excuse to let yourself go, to be un-pretty. It's just a call to focus on inner beauty, that doesn't fade away. This is not self esteem, it's Chr!st esteem. Your true beauty is so entwined in J'esus, and another year just means another year of getting to look more like Him, and point more eyes to Him. And if no one's ever told you, woman of God, you are beautiful.

[Friends, thank you for letting me observe your beauty as I visited with many of you during October. I love you!]

October 31, 2013

one flock, one shepherd

[Note: I wrote this post at the beginning of October, as I was leaving Asia.]
I knew, in those moments, that my life was changing dramatically. There was the blast of an unstifled burp mixing with the smell of airline biriyani. A person or two cutting in front of me in the immigration line-up. A sweaty chase after a late flight set me behind. Planes crammed with black-haired people and me. And, in those moments, I couldn't help but think: so this is where I'm moving. This is my new host culture. There was some trepidation in my heart.

Ten months ago, we were touching down on the tarmac when the man next to me began making small talk. He was bleary-eyed, just stirring from a fitful night of plane-sleeping. But once he heard where I was going to work, he was alert. "You're going to live where? Why?" His face registered shock, surprise, and warning. The people of the state where I was moving are known even by neighbouring states for having a strong, exclusive, traditional culture.

It's almost exactly ten months later, and I'm headed back to the airport, for a short visit to North America. I'm using the same suitcase as last year, but this time, it might hold the scent of the cloud of incense that drifted through our house this morning—from the kitchen, where the gods are, where my roommate's aunt was saying her prayersparticular prayers, because it was the beginning of a religious festival. Ten months later, but so much has transpired in those ten months.

The shiny airport facility appears in the distance, clean and modern-looking. But upon closer inspection, it is chaotic place. The crowd outside the glass building is writhing with veiled or sequined women, new brides adorned with clattering wedding bangles, and men in small caps and full beards. Upon seeing the busy scene (and this at one o'clock in the morning), I do something that has become so common in the last ten months. I avert my eyes. I lift my scarf to partially disguise my blonde hair. And finally, I step into the melee with my luggage.

Inside the airport the crowd thins, but men still surround me, and so do their eyes. I'm glad for the slight protection of my scarf. But it can't stop one nearby man from jutting his chin and motioning to his two friends to look at me. I look away. The luggage guys scan more than just luggage. I look away. And so it goes. The eyes feel more plenteous than usual tonight; they weary me. Is this not an international airport? Have they never seen a foreign woman travelling by herself before? Frustrated thoughts go through my mind. Until a phrase from a Psalm comes to mind, riding on a tune I heard recently: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

And that truth is enough. Enough, until the eyes are gone, the documents are stamped, and the boarding call is made. I know the Shepherd, and He is enough.

My foreign friend's words come back to me now: "We have been called to lay aside our culture for a time, so that we can love in this culture." That "laying aside of our culture" is difficult, some days. It's not so hard when I'm presented with the gracious aspects of our host culture (and there are many!): their warm affection and hospitality, their delicious meals, their constant availability to help, their gorgeous patterns and clothing, their respect of elders. Truly, they do many things well. But it's hard to remember under the smell of onions and body odour, when the heat is oppressive, or when the paperwork takes trip after trip.

"Laying aside our culture"hiding my hair is the least of it, changing my eating habits is part of it, laying aside personal goals or preferences and actively choosing new attitudes is the hardest.  
But this is my calling at this time.

I admitted to my foreign friend that as much as I anticipate my time in Canada with my friends and family, at times my mind already goes to the goodbyes at the end of the visit. Before I even hit Candian soil, I'm already thinking about the struggle of unclothing myself of my culture and putting on theirs again. And my friend could relate to the tears that collect at the edges of my eyes when I think of returning...or leaving....or whatever it will be called when I land on Asian soil again and raise the headscarf. The headscarf, a symbol of submission: I will live in this culture, so that I can love in this culture.

You know, Father, that it isn't because I don't want to live in Asia, right?
I know You led me there for this season.

You know, Son, what it's like, right? This unclothing of ourselves?
It's good that you know—because I desperately need Your example.

You know, Spirit, how I need you, right?
To do Your thing—to comfort, strengthen, convict, guide.

As I type this paragraph, I'm on a turbulent flight somewhere over the Canadian prairies. We've been shaking for a while now. Reminds me of my heart, sometimes: fitful, fraught with frailties, fighting to stay steady between cultures, between countries. Outside it's dark and cloudy.

I met a lady who told me that my host country reminded her of that phrase,
"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them..."
So now my Asian home reminds me of that passage, too.

The sheer number of people is part of what makes this nation overwhelming. But it's also part of what presses their need into my heart. As my coworkers and I pushed to the front the airport crowd that night, I remembered His compassionate heart toward every last one of them. I remember the Shepherd who would gladly inconvenience Himself to find just one, lost lamb. And that is not my heart—that of gladly inconveniencing myselfbut I want it to be my heart.

Even as I prepared to board my flight away from our cityguarding my position in the queue rather selfishly—I saw, out of the corner of my eye, men in white robes saying prayers toward a wall before boarding. The waiting area was full of these relig!ous men. Again, He reminded me of His perspective. Why did He have compassion? Because they were "…harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

Let the people cut in line. Let the burps fly. Let the sweat collect under my headscarf. Let the eyes bore into me. Let dear friends be far away, or not even understand me. Let me lay down my culture, my life. This announcement from the Shepherd would make every moment worthwhile: "Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep."

"The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." —John

"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. 
I must bring them also. 
They too will listen to my voice, 
and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." —John

October 11, 2013

a beautiful day

Today should be a beautiful day.

A Canadian October is a brief sigh, released after a gorgeous summer; it's the last hurrah before the snow comes. 

Today should be all hurrah.

The autumn breeze is playing with my hair. I'm holding my niece close to my chest, hearing her tiny breaths and watching her bright eyes. I bundle her in my shawl as the wind cuts cooler and closer to our skin.

She's healthy. She's happy. She's a sweet little person who chortles and chuckles, scoots and shines. So much joy entered our hearts when we met her one year ago today. My heart should be full. 

Today should be so sweet.

But today I got a message from a friend in Asia. A few days ago we were glowing and praying and wishing her well at her baby shower. Today the words are choppy, as they come—without a lot of explanation—and the glow is gone from the terse phrases:
It's a baby boy.
He's early.
Don't know if he will live through the night.
She lost a lot of blood.

And on this day that should be beautiful, hurrah, and sweet...
with a healthy, happy October 11 baby in my arms, 
suddenly I'm crying. And crying. In my mind, I see American blood washing down Asian drains, dreams drowning in grimy gutters.

When I get the message, we're cutting out party decorations. And my niece's mother tells me, “You can go if you want. You can go lie down.” No need to string paper owl birthday banners when another baby is suffering.
I do go lie down.
I'm still crying.

On the day that was supposed to be beautiful.

I'm back on the park bench, with my lovely niece. I wrap my French shawl tighter around her and snuggle her against my Asian top. My bangles clink. I think about how, while sometimes it feels like I have come back to a place where nothing has changed, I have changed. A tour of Europe, ten months in Asia, and now a visit back to Canada. Here I am, weeping for people that my friends and family have never met. They try to understand: “So is this a family you work closely with?” They kindly offer a pr@yer for him or listen to the baby's story with compassion. But it's hard for them to comprehend the world that opened itself to me in ten short months. The world into which fresh pain has entered today.

Babies suffer every day. Why am I crying for this one? Because I love him, I suppose. I loved him before I met him, because I loved his parents. Now I love people so far from my quiet park bench under the grey autumn sky. I have changed.

Today I see life and death undiluted. The joy of a cozy child, resting contentedly and joyfully. Another baby, struggling to breathe: pain, sorrow, and anguish.

I have in my day a cross-section of life on earth as we know it: true joy, true pain...“and underneath are the everlasting arms.” If not for those arms that stretched wide and took pain, true joy would have been eclipsed by the suffering sin brought. The solution for our pain was wrought 2,000 years ago, but for now the two realities coexist in a sort of tension, until that long-expected day when joy wins and sorrow is put away forever. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain....”. Some days we feel that joy-pain tension more than others. Days like today.

But without the anguish of the “Man of Sorrows”, we would never have received the Comforter. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. 
Today is a beautiful day, 
it's even hurrah,
it's even sweet...
because between tears, we have the assurance of lasting joy in a not-too-distant tomorrow. 

Our pain is temporary. Our joy is forever. Thank you, Je'sus.

[Note: I posted this on October 23 but back-dated it to October 11.]